Time Management Tools: A Convenience or Trap?

Technology has transformed our lives

There are numerous books and articles devoted to time management, but we still seem to have very little free time. We make lists and group tasks. We organize, categorize, prioritize and analyze. We purchase and install every conceivable labor-saving device on the market, but we still work longer days than ever. Where does our time go?

Remember when the freezer had to be defrosted and the oven needed cleaning? Do you recall having to get out of your car to raise the door before you could park in the garage? Who has spent time with a garden hose, watering the lawn? How many know what it meant to “wind your watch?”

Anyone under the age of 40 likely never performed these chores because technological advances liberated us from such mundane tasks. The purpose of garage door openers, self-defrosting refrigerators, electronic watches and hundreds of other tools was to eliminate tasks that could be automated. The promise behind this purpose was to save time.

Our home life has benefited from the automation of simple duties, although we still seemingly lack free time. Equal attention has been devoted to making job-related tasks easier, but the results are less apparent. Computers were supposed to make work paperless, but most offices still line the walls with filing cabinets. Cell phones made land lines obsolete, but many of us still have a “home” or “business” phone. Skype lessened the importance of cell phones, which in turn are replacing computers as the tool that connects us to the Internet. Email superseded snail mail as the primary means of receiving written correspondence, but we check our mailbox daily to see what USPS delivered. Many consider email slow and obsolete, preferring text or instant messages. (Skype can handle that, also.)

Time Management Tools: Friend or Foe?

Time Management Tools: do they really save time?
Time Management Tools: do they really save time?
In the "old times" we had to clean our oven....
In the "old times" we had to clean our oven....
...the Xerox machine was the most important piece of equipment in the office, and...
...the Xerox machine was the most important piece of equipment in the office, and...
...there were cabinets filled with documents everywhere.  The filing cabinets are still there...
...there were cabinets filled with documents everywhere. The filing cabinets are still there...
Now we also have cell phones and computers in our business arsenal
Now we also have cell phones and computers in our business arsenal
Skype has become a staple of doing business
Skype has become a staple of doing business
How many arms does it take to keep our time management tools from controlling us?
How many arms does it take to keep our time management tools from controlling us?

Why hasn't technology helped more than it has?

It would be erroneous to claim that electronic and digital tools haven’t made our working lives more efficient, but it seems as if they should have helped us more. Why hasn’t technology impacted our work lives to the same degree it has improved our personal life? There are several reasons.

We can’t trust our technology as much as we need to. The most sophisticated technology the majority of us employ in business is the computer. Our PC or Mac may be quite amazing but it’s far from perfect, and we allow for a higher failure rate for our computer than for home appliances. If applications quit without warning or the computer screen freezes, we’ve accepted that as the norm, as frustrating as it might be. Subsequently, we don’t award technology the same degree of trust in our work that we grant it at home. We don’t check the refrigerator every few hours to satisfy ourselves that it’s defrosting; we just know that it is and trust the technology behind home convenience devices to be sound.

In the business world, stakes are higher and the costs of mechanical, electronic or digital failure greater. Because computers are temperamental, we back up files to external hard disks or CDs, but many also create hard copies of files. We have as much paper in our office as ever. Since we are saving files in multiple formats, we risk losing time rather than saving it. Forty years ago, the Xerox machine was the most important piece of equipment in our office. Ten years into the 21st century we’re still using it; our trusty copy machine now supplements disk and online files.

We don’t retire old technology when new tools are developed. In an ideal world, new technology would supplant the old, and everyone would use comparable equipment. This doesn’t happen, usually for one of these reasons: cost; an urge to remain in our comfort zone; or, we need to access the same technology our clients and providers use. How often do we find vendors who only accept orders via fax? Not as often as we used to, but they are still around.

Skype and instant messaging functionally replace email, but most of us still have at least one email account. Who has more than one, with a distinction between personal and professional use? We might have multiple cell phones, a land line, and several ways to text or instant message, all to ensure we don’t miss anything important. Cell phones and netbooks augment our online capabilities but haven’t replaced our PC.

We embrace each new technological development to remain ahead of the curve, but are reluctant to jettison the old tools because clients still use them. Subsequently, we’re spending more time checking and responding to messages in multiple formats. The easier it is to communicate, the more time we lose.

Technology inhibits our time management when we use it compulsively or without discretion. Before email, the post office delivered mail once a day and businesses survived. Someone worked in the mail room opening envelopes, sorting and routing letters. Work routines allowed us to attend to correspondence at a set time each day. Now we are barraged with messages in multiple formats. How often do we check email? If a pop-up on our computer screen informs us we received an email, how many of us read it immediately? Instant messaging features tell us who is online at any given moment and sometimes offers a “buzz” function to get one’s attention—it won’t even let us disregard it! Without a method for dealing with constant streams of communications, it will consume our day.

If we get a call on our cell phone at an inopportune moment, do we answer it? A cell phone should allow us to reach each other more easily, but not at any time, day or night. We’ve convinced ourselves that everything requires an immediate response, but does it? If we check for phone or text messages at regular intervals, our colleagues and friends will learn our patterns and adapt. They will eventually contact us at a time we are likely to answer the phone, or determine when we check for messages. They will adapt.

What can we do?

For the entrepreneur who communicates without face-to-face contact, communication tools are essential to success. If our cell phone is our business phone, it isn’t practical to be unavailable to potential customers, but we can make our tools work for us without becoming their slave. We must minimize the interruptions and redundancies technology interjects into our lives that reduce our focus. We can be more effective in our business by maintaining a time and place for dealing with seemingly inevitable distractions. How can we accomplish this?

Use as few tools as possible in your work. I was once offered a business card that listed four different telephone numbers: corporate, local business, cell phone and home phone number. This card also provided a web site and an email address. I stared at the card, realizing I still didn’t know a reliable way to reach this person. Who could predict how long it would take to filter through messages left in so many places, or if it was easier to reach her one way than another? Make it easy on yourself and run your business through minimal communication venues. Use other tools when it is the only way possible to communicate with clients. De-emphasize or shut down superfluous web sites and links. Too many avenues for communication make us harder to reach, not easier.

Tell friends and acquaintances when it’s a good time to reach you. Working from home or on your own schedule is innocently seen by some as an invitation to interrupt your work. Friends may even justify interruptions by proclaiming, “I thought you could use a break.” Keep your productivity high by minimizing distractions. Let associates know that just because your cell phone is with you doesn’t make it a good time to talk. Tell them you will get back with them when you are free.

When you need to concentrate most, turn everything off! To assume you must be there whenever someone calls, Skypes, or sends an email, text or instant message is to short-change yourself. Stifle the rings, buzzes, beeps, pop-ups and other indicators that someone wants a piece of your time. When things must get accomplished, it is fine to let the outside world wait a few hours while you tend to business. When the pressure is off, check for messages that were left for you.

Don’t use technology compulsively. Check email at regular intervals. Resist the temptation to look for new messages every few minutes. If you have several email accounts and multiple web sites where messages can be left for you, your time will be consumed with navigating from one venue to another in search of messages. It should be sufficient to check for messages every few hours at most. Respond to your messages all at once to avoid having to return to them later.

Don’t feel everything requires a response. Solicitors, jokes, or even “hi, how’s it going?” messages sometimes don’t warrant a response. I removed the “leave your name and number and I’ll return your call as quickly as I can” message from my land line because I might not call back as quickly as I can. Phone tag is a great time waster, and if someone wants to speak with me when I’m not available, they should feel free to call again later or tell me what they wanted in a message. Rudeness is not advocated, but occasionally a call doesn’t need to be returned until it’s convenient to do so. A promise to call back as soon as possible allows someone else to impose their schedule upon you.

I do not advocate being inaccessible. Timely and effective communication is paramount to the success of an entrepreneur. However, technology can be a mixed blessing that scatters our focus rather than honing it. You will learn how frequently to send and receive messages for your business to succeed. You will know when to accept interruptions and when to politely defer them. You will determine what technology you truly need to drive your business and what is superfluous. You will discern when technology is a help or a hindrance.

When these things happen, technology will truly work for you.

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Comments 21 comments

Rosa Berger 6 years ago

I like your suggestions a lot. One thing I would like to add is that we all own so much more stuff than previous generations. And all this stuff must be maintained, cleaned, stored, sorted through, etc. In addition to your advice concerning the use of communication technology, my advise would be to own as little stuff as possible. It's easier to find the things you really need and you won't waste time on things you do not need.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Rosa, thanks for your comments. It is interesting that you mentioned thinning out the things we don't need--I was thinking about dumping a lot stuff recently. I just recently cleared away an extra computer I had sitting on my desk unused, and now I actually have room on my desk to do some work! It is a simplistic example, but demonstrates the practicality of your advice.

Thanks again.

Ghost Whisper 77 profile image

Ghost Whisper 77 6 years ago from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals

:( Time management? I don't carry any cell unless traveling-landline with voicemail-I listen to it ring and don't pick up most of the time-own one e-mail-too busy sometimes to even call others-but do love e-mail-a quick way to tell someone "Hi hows it going?" to let them know they were thought of-even if it doesn't warrant a return.

Usually I am great at managing time but miss the windy watches and watering my own flowers and grass-I miss much of the 'old'ways. Good Hub.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Ghost, thanks for commenting. I usually let my landline go to voicemail also.

I still have a watch my parents bought my in 1973--it winds. It needed repair once, and the jeweler I brought it to said the watch wasn't worth the cost to repair. I said it was worth it to me--go ahead and fix it.

Thanks for your comments, Ghost. They are much appreciated.

hypnodude profile image

hypnodude 6 years ago from Italy

Great hub Mike. I really enjoyed reading it. And you're so true, the more technology eases some tasks the more we take added tasks to do; and then we have no time left to look at flowers or enjoy other beautiful simple things. Deep insights. Thumb up.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

hypnodude, thanks for your comments. You are absolutely correct--the way we conduct our business and subsequently our lives too often crowds out the things that are truly important. Perhaps someday we can return to lives that emphasize beauty and meaning--not just dollars and cents.

Thanks again for your kind words.

rml 6 years ago

Very good advice. I usually check email a lot. I need to do that a little less often.

screation profile image

screation 6 years ago

With the hectic lifestyles that most of us lead these days, time tends to be a precious commodity that many of us wish we had more of. With this in mind there has been a growth in the number of programs, books and resources on the subject of time management and how to achieve maximum productivity within the 24 hour day.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

rml, thanks for your comments. I check email way less than I used to, and it has freed up a lot of time for me.

screation, you are correct, there is a wealth of information about time management out there. I thought I would take a slightly different approach and discuss how time management tools don't always help us. All the tools in the world aren't useful unless we use them appropriately.

Thanks again.

Just A Voice 6 years ago

Ah, the world of technology...such a convenience and such a pain in rear!

My niece is in S. Africa on an internship, we skype to help her with homesickness...conveniece. Our business is pretty much solely done on computers, when our computers go down...pain in the rear.

The moment of truth in our technology hit me one day when I couldn't find the digital themometer to take my child's temperature. I did find the old mercury, shake-down kind. After waiting the minute for it to take the reading, I pulled it out of my child's mouth and turned it this way and that, squinting to make out where the line was. My child spoke up; "it must be broken mama, it didn't make a beeping sound when it was done."

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Just a Voice, thanks for your comments. What a terrific example of the role technology plays in our lives--your child couldn't remember a thermometer that doesn't tell us when the reading is ready.

(Progress:We used to pop popcorn in a pot on the stove, then came popcorn poppers. Now there is a separate button on microwave ovens for popcorn.)

And our trusty computers--the best and the worst of the world of technology. Computers offer business and lifestyle possibilities we never dreamed of when I was a child, but they still aren't sufficiently reliable to depend on them without caution.

It is terrific that skype allows you to communicate with your niece--technology works well in that regard.

I guess I'm rambling in response to your thoughtful comments, Voice, so I will end here and get to bed.

Thanks again for your comments and insights, they are much appreciated.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

I've worked in two places where the phone ruled. If it rang, we jumped, regardless of customers right in front of you - which went against my earlier training. As well, the emails from board members or legal counsel (depending on how much clout they had) had to be answered IMMEDIATELY, regardless of the phone or whoever was at your desk - unless one of them had more clout. Crazy way to work! Constant re-prioritization and most stressful. I miss the money, but certainly not the environment and ridiculous expectations.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

RedElf, thanks for your comments. Yes, I've worked in places where the phones were top priority, as well. The mayhem increased when no one was assigned the task of answering them, and everyone jumped to take the call or risk the wrath of management.

I was always taught that the person standing in front of you was your customer, and the person on the phone was a potential customer--but the phones still reigned supreme.

Emails are just as crazy. Corporate higher-ups calling to ensure I got their email--why not just talk to me on the phone in the first place?

What you describe does seem incredibly stressful and I'm sure you are glad to be away from an environment like that--except for the extra money, of course. I miss that part, also.

Thanks again for commenting.

Just A Voice 6 years ago

Hahahaha...heavy sigh. You and RedElf are so right.

Corporate life...and I'm still buried up to my eyeballs in it. I won't bore anyone with the blah, blah, blahs of what I do, but I will say I could get a LOT MORE DONE if I didn't have to read/respond to the extreme amount of inner-office emails I receive. It has gotten so bad that sometimes the email only has information in the subject title and nothing in the actual body of the email itself. Insane.

I have to wade through a gazillion emails that most could be conveyed by pressing my extension and telling me, from the comfort of their own desk if they don't feel like walking the short distance to my office, what it is they feel I should know.

Unfortunately people are addicted to their email transmissions and no matter what, they are going to use it to the fullest extent...time be damned.

Enough said by me...I could write a PHD thesis on this subject, so I will stop before I become the bore we all fear we can be.

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Just a Voice, thanks for coming back. Yes, the emails... I worked for a company that decided we were getting too many emails from the corporate office, so the policy was created to send all emails to our Regional Manager, who condensed whatever could wait into a single email, to be sent on Tuesday morning.

Well, sometimes by Tuesday these things could no longer wait, so every Tuesday was consumed by following up with the emails that could wait. In that way, things that weren't essential took up most of Tuesday, and we knew everything else demanded immediate response.

I grew to dread Tuesday morning and that multi-topic non-essential yet essential email.

Yes, the joys of corporate life are many!

Thanks again.

Time Management Training 6 years ago

Thanks a lot

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Time Management Training, thanks for reading.


WaleedHatim profile image

WaleedHatim 5 years ago from Cairo, Egypt

Great article!! I also wrote about how to make use of your time in my hub:


It has different content but I guess it will help you guys!!

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

WaleedHatim, thanks for stopping by. I will check out your work. Take care.


UniqueVanities profile image

UniqueVanities 5 years ago from Ohio

Really liked your tips... I often find myself not shutting out the world around me when focusing on a task and not setting time aside to do specific things (like checking emails or talking with family) the result is one scattered girl! Looking forward to implementing these ideas and seeing how the effect my focus throughout the day! I'm already figuring the result will be great! Thanks! Voted up and useful!

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thanks, Unique Vanities. I hope the suggestions were helpful. It is difficult to keep the outside world from scattering our focus, but sometimes we just have to. Good luck.


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